Thursday, February 15, 2018

A commentary: How long will we accept weapons of war being used to slaughter our nation's children?

On Wednesday, President Trump did not address the nation after the Florida high school shooting that left at least 17 dead. While his advisors recommended he say something in the aftermath of the latest horrific mass shooting in America, such as what President Obama did back in December 2012 in dealing with the Sandy Hook Elementary horror in which a gunman killed 20 first graders and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut – a moment he later said in a TV interview was the worst day of his presidency – this President opted not to. Mr. Trump remained silent, hiding behind his Twitter account.

While we have become tired of the empty gestures and platitudes which come with each new national tragedy, it seems that we as a nation should be disturbed by this President, who always wants to provoke, never reassure or commiserate like President Obama did so eloquently more than once during his eight-year stewardship of the White House.

Yesterday, before his team's NBA game in Portland, Oregon – just hours after the Florida shooting – Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, who has always been open about his views on politics, addressed the matter of gun violence head on – unlike our current commander-in-chief. Kerr spoke out passionately about the need to find a way to curtail gun violence in the United States.

"It doesn't seem to matter to our government that children are being shot to death day after day in schools. It doesn't matter that people are being shot at a concert, in a movie theater. It's not enough apparently to move our leadership – our government – the people who are running this country to actually do anything. That's demoralizing," said Kerr.

Mind you, gun violence is a deeply personal issue for Kerr, whose father, Malcolm H. Kerr, was assassinated in 1984 by two gunmen outside his office in Beirut, Lebanon, where he was president of the American University of Beirut.

"We can actually do something about it. We can vote people in who actually have the courage to protect people's lives and not just bow down to the NRA because they've financed their campaign for them," said Kerr.

"Hopefully, we'll find enough people, first of all, to vote good people in, but hopefully, we can find people with courage to help our citizens remain safe and focus on the real safety issues. Not building some stupid wall for billions of dollars that has nothing to do with our safety, but actually protecting us from what truly is dangerous, which is maniacs with semi-automatic weapons just slaughtering our children. It's disgusting."

Video: Courtesy of YouTube.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

In Between: Taking on gender politics without apology

On Sunday morning in Washington, D.C., my wife and I attended a sneak preview of In Between (Bar Bahar in Arabic), a bold and brassy Israeli drama written and directed by Palestinian filmmaker Maysaloun Hamoud about living Arab and female in Israel. The "in-your-face-but-not-in-your-face" film is set in freewheeling and secular Tel Aviv, where the fallout from Arab Spring has brought about a new underground of Palestinians who are enjoying never-imagined freedoms – they're caught up in a new social revolution, a new world order, if you will – yet, whose underground nightlife remains contemporary and ethnic.

In Between presents three very different women – a conservative, hijab-wearing Muslim university computer science student; a modern Muslim criminal lawyer who likes to party after hours; and a liberal, Christian underground scene DJ/bartender – who happen to share an apartment where they find themselves balancing their lives between "tradition and modernity, citizenship and culture, fealty and freedom." Each woman tries to shape her own destiny despite living in a conservative Arab society that's entrenched in patriarchy.

In In Between, there's a whole lot of young people who are thinking and behaving differently – a mixture of gay and straight culture – while breaking down sacred and sexual barriers. The film, which stars Palestinian actresses Mouna Hawa (as the beautiful extrovert Laila), Sana Jammelieh (as the artsy and closeted lesbian Salma) and Shaden Kanboura (as the somewhat näive but observant and studious Nour), is presented in Arabic and Hebrew dialogue with English subtitles and includes an exotic and pulsating electronica soundtrack. It is Hamoud's first feature-length film – she did it with Israeli funding – and it earned her a fatwa from her own people because of the frank and explicit subject matter it tackled: homosexuality, intoxication and drug use.

"I couldn't imagine this happening, but I am not surprised," said Hamoud, during a 2017 BBC Newsnight interview. "They didn't want to look in the mirror and see the ugly face that is put in front of them."

As we see during this non-rated 103-minute film, In Between also deals with a Jewish state that treats its Arab citizens with a sense of mistrust, which makes it even more of a challenge for Laila, Salma and Nour to be able to live free in a restricted society and defend their sense of independence from the familial values they no longer share.

Throughout In Between, suggests critic Susan Wloszczyna of, what is most intriguing is "how each woman is allowed to make mistakes and learn from them without any judgment on Hamoud's part." Another critic, Ella Taylor of NPR, writes that "Hamoud's narrative instincts can be broad, but she is rarely glib or coy. That she has chosen to focus squarely on internal tensions within the Arab community – the widening cultural and political gulf between the generations – is a mark of her courage, her bravado and her brutal honesty."

In his review of In Between, New York Times film critic A.O. Scott notes that the movie "is fatalistic about the local political situation, pessimistic about men and encouraged by the power of female solidarity. In other words, whether by serendipity or prophetic insight or some combination of the two, it's a perfect movie for the movement."

Adds Hamoud: "The thing that's really touched me is when women come and say 'you are inspiring for us'. I cannot ask for more than this."

In awarding In Between best debut feature film at the Haifa Film Festival, the jury described it as "a powerful creation about women fighting to shape their fate by coping with challenges, through friendship, courage, victory, and by breaking free of shackles, and the price they pay."

In an age of #MeToo, In Between takes on gender politics without apology. I highly recommend this award-winning film, which has received limited release in the U.S.

Photo: Courtesy of Film Movement. Videos: Courtesy of YouTube.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Social media maelstrom: Did FCA really use MLK's words about the value of service to sell Ram trucks? Yes.

Each year, there's no bigger stage than the Super Bowl for advertisers – and Super Bowl LII was no different. While the tone of some of this year's messages aimed for laughter and nostalgia – not to mention philanthropy in an age of Trumpian tax cuts – one advertisement in particular drew much online criticism.

During the second quarter of Sunday night's Super Bowl game between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles, American car maker Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) turned to a sermon given 50 years ago by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. about the value of service and used it as the voice-over to sell Ram trucks.

If there's a wince award to be given – based upon the impact or backlash it made on social media – this would be the winner.

The use of Dr. King's sermon, entitled "The Drum Major Instinct," was part of a five-ad campaign by FCA that also included a classic scene from "Jurassic Park" featuring actor Jeff Goldblum and Queen's much-overused anthem "We Will Rock You" to market its Jeep and Ram brands. At a combined 240 seconds, FCA tied Anheiser-Busch for second-most ad time during this year's Super Bowl, which was broadcast by NBC across the the U.S. and reached an estimated 103.4 million TV viewers, the smallest Super Bowl audience since 2009. Each 30-second Super Bowl commercial cost advertisers about $5 million.

According to AdAge, FCA's global chief marketing officer Olivier Francois is "fond of calling on historical figures and movie and music stars backed by montages of vehicles and everyday people. He has a tendency to source ideas from a wide array of agencies, often making last-minute decisions on the winners."

In "Built to Serve," which was created by Chicago-based boutique agency Highdive, it made use of an MLK speech delivered 50 years ago to the day (Feb. 4, 1968) at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta – his last major speech before he was assassinated on April 4, 1968 – in which the civil rights icon declared "everybody can be great" because everybody can serve. Throughout the ad spot, there are "26 powerful images of those serving others" – "everyday people," including a farmer, a barber, a fisherman, a teacher, students in a classroom and members of the military. There's even a firefighter lifting a child over his shoulder.

"But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant," MLK is heard (but not seen) saying, "That's the new definition of greatness. By giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great. You don't have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve."

The ad reaches its conclusion with a message that to serve "you only need a heart full of grace. Soul generated by love." Then, the last image shown on screen is of the Ram slogan "Built to Serve."

While some liked the ad, calling it "wonderful" and "continuing on your legacy of 'on brand' storytelling," it also drew polarizing reactions, such as "who knew MLK was talking about pickup trucks this whole time" and "MLK wanted equal rights and for me to buy a Dodge Ram." A story about the Ram ad online in Huffington Post suggests "People were, understandably, not very happy with the company's attempt to profit off of one of history's greatest social just advocates."

In today's lead editorial in The New York Times, entitled "Dr. King's Words Turned Upside Down," it wrote: "Ostensibly, the Ram commercial was an appeal for people to serve. But who's kidding whom? The goal was to sell trucks, with Dr. King as pitchman."

Mind you, FCA has often relied upon using message-driven Super Bowl ads to touch on the state of the American economy and farming industry, featuring appearances or off-camera voice-overs by well-known cultural figures like Eminem, Oprah Winfrey, Bob Dylan, Clint Eastwood and Paul Harvey. These were all critically acclaimed and memorable.

However, now, one need only point toward the irony of the NFL's attempt to monetize MLK's activism while at the same time it systematically colludes against Colin Kaepernick, a black quarterback, and his protests of police brutality and systematic racism.

"Black people can't kneel and play football, but MLK should be used to sell trucks during the Super Bowl," tweeted writer and comedian Akilah Hughes. "Unbelievable."

In an interview with The New York Times published in its Monday print editions, Tim Calkins, a Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management marketing professor, said of FCA's "Built to Serve" ad: "It's the wrong mistake to make given everything that's going on in the U.S. right now. There's so much emotion right now around race in this country that this was a high-risk move, and clearly it's not going over very well.

"I think it was well intentioned, but they're going to have a lot of explaining to do," said Mr. Calkins.

Indeed, especially when you add to the disconnect that MLK's sermon touched on the danger of overspending on items like cars – not to mention people "are so often taken by advertisers."

One thing I learned from looking over a variety of social media in researching this commentary is that many viewers felt that FCA's "Built to Serve" ad, which was meant to inspire about the power of service, cooperation and community, was distasteful because it used the words and voice of a civil rights icon to advertise trucks.

Did FCA cross the line when it used MLK's voice as a means to sell trucks during its 60-second advertisement for the 2019 Ram 1500? I think it did, especially when you consider that the Black Lives Matter movement still march in the streets and NFL players are criticized for taking a knee during the National Anthem in silent protest against racism and policy brutality. I found it insulting to the memory of the revered civil rights leader.

However, if you were to ask Eric D. Tidwell, managing director of Intellectual Properties Management, the licensor of the MLK estate, you would get a different answer from mine.

In a statement released at the height of the backlash Sunday night, the King Estate said it had reviewed FCA's ad before it aired to make sure it met its standards and "found that the overall message of the ad embodied Dr. King's philosophy that true greatness is achieved by serving others.

"Thus we decided to be a part of Ram's 'Built to Serve' Super Bowl program."

Meanwhile, FCA, the parent company of Ram, defended its ad and released a statement Sunday night. It said it was "honored to have the privilege of working with the Estate of Martin Luther King Jr. to celebrate those words during the largest TV viewing event annually," and added "Estate representatives were a very important part of the creative process every step of the way."

Fine, but as The New York Times concluded about the "sheer crassness"exhibited by FCA in using MLK's voice and message to sell its Ram product and further its ideals – and I am in agreement – "He did not ask to be a huckster for a line of trucks."

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

A Tuesday Night Memo: Thoughts on turning eight

People who know me well know that I've been interested in writing, reporting and storytelling for a long time. So, it's only natural that I turned to blog writing because it gave me an opportunity to hone my writing skills and provided a forum for writing about things that interested me and that I wanted to share with others.

My blog, A Tuesday Night Memo, turned eight last week. Here's a little history about it:

I started writing A Tuesday Night Memo on January 26, 2010, as a means for sharing musings about my life filled with music, sport, and urban travel, and to foster community with my friends, family and Facebook acquaintances. More recently, as I added a Twitter profile, it allowed me to reach a wider audience across the country and beyond.

People who know me well know that I'm passionate about music, sport, and urban travel. Additionally, I have used my blog as a vehicle for writing about art, food, fashion, religion and gardening – and, more recently, about politics. Before we moved to the east coast, sharing news and photos about our former Oakland, Calif., flower gardens at home always seem to generate great interest and enthusiasm. Maybe, it was the pretty shapes and colors of our flowers that others found appealing, especially since we could maintain a garden all year long.

Up to now, I have "blogged" 391 entries for A Tuesday Night Memo, which collectively have received more than 142,000 page views. Among the many subjects I have written about include: my appreciation of tennis champion Roger Federer, how the city of Seattle fosters community through international cinema, a history of the world as seen through 100 objects, classical music conductor Gustavo Dudamel, Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, my love affair with Pink Martini, validating our travel through our photographs, and Jerry Seinfeld's Internet comedy Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. Some of my recent posts have focused on new books written by actor Tom Hanks and veteran newsman Dan Rather. My most recent post focused on the future of the food industry in light of recent sexual harassment allegations made against many high profile chefs across the country. I have shared my interest in digital photography since beginning my blog, which has enabled me to illustrate many if not all of my posts with colorful visuals to match the words I've written.

The feedback many have shared is not only very much appreciated, but I also find it very useful. Much of it has been positive, but sometimes it's also been critical. Whether good or bad, I've found the feedback readers provide to be a valuable learning tool. Occasionally, I like to sneak a look at my blog's statistics, which are the key indicators that show how many total "hits" my blog has received, which stories have been read the most, and what countries comprise the blog's readership. The numbers are modest but nevertheless interesting.

Here are a few fun facts about A Tuesday Night Memo I thought you might enjoy:

Since my blog's debut, it has been read in dozens of countries, including the U.S., Canada, Mexico, France, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey and Hong Kong – even Brazil, India, Vietnam, and Australia. The top five countries reading my blog include the U.S, Russia, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom. I hope Russia's interest in my blog has nothing to do with their wanting to hack me because of my occasional blog posts about President Donald Trump.

Looking ahead, the Trump presidency will continue to garner my interest and attention from time to time. How could it not? However, there's so much more to write about. Among things that I look forward to learning about include my continuing interest in exploring museums – and what we can learn from them. Also, I would like to explore the effect digital music and media have in connecting our world.

In the meantime, I thoroughly enjoy sharing my writing week in and week out, and I look forward to contributing more of my words and thoughts in what is shaping up to be another exciting year awaiting all of us.

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

TimesTalks D.C.: Food is what's going to save America

Last Thursday, The New York Times hosted a most interesting and informative "TimesTalks D.C." roundtable on the future of restaurants, the plight of undocumented workers in the food industry and gender equity in the workplace at George Washington University. The "Future of Restaurants" panelists included James Beard Foundation Award-winners José Andrés (Spanish-American chef and Washington, D.C. restaurateur, often credited for bringing the small plates dining concept "tapas" to America), Danny Meyer (CEO of the Union Square Hospitality Group and founder of the popular Shake Shack casual dining cafes), and Aaron Silverman (owner/chef at Rose's Luxury in Washington, D.C.). The multi-Michelin starred panel was moderated by Kim Severson, national food correspondent for The New York Times.

During the frank and lively 80-minute discussion, which was aired live on, Severson started by asking each panelist if they have been practicing their "active male listening" in light of recent stories pertaining to sexual harassment in the workplace, including the restaurant industry.

"We are only as good as the people we have around us ... and we need to be calling out when we see something that is not right," said Andrés, the father of three daughters, about the #MeToo movement happening now in every industry, not just the field of food. "It's about humanity. ... I don't want to have any regrets that I didn't do the right thing."

Meyer, whose New York City-based Union Square Hospitality Group includes Union Square Cafe, Gramercy Tavern and Shake Shack concepts, spoke about the future opening of his first Union Square Cafe outside of New York at the Capitol Crossing complex in Mount Vernon triangle. "The thing that I'm most excited about is starting with the great restaurant community (in D.C.)," he said, which also includes creating safe spaces and promoting diversity. "I think we have an amazing moment to talk about who we want to be going forward right now."

Silverman, whose Little Pearl coffee shop and wine bar evolved out of a daytime cafe (Pineapple and Pearls) he used to operate, responded to a question about the elevation of "ethnic" foods: "I think there is a lot of food that isn't 'American' or French or Spanish that is already being elevated. It's totally happening and I hope to see more of it.

"It feels good to be able to say yes to people. We're just trying to make people happy."

Andrés, whose humanitarian relief effort has resulted in more than 3.2 million meals for hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, recently wrote a Washington Post op-ed about immigration reform. He said: "America is about pragmatism. We should be creating smart visas to give opportunities for those people to come in, work, get paid, and go back to their communities."

Later, Andrés summed up the evening's wide-ranging discussion perfectly – and it took just one just one sentence to do it. He said: "At the end of the day, food is what's going to save America."

Photo: © Michael Dickens, 2018.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

On Oprah Winfrey: Indeed, a new day is on the horizon

It isn't often that an awards speech is so moving that it brings both men and women in the audience to their feet. Yet, in accepting the Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement during the 75th Golden Globes in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Sunday night, media entrepreneur Oprah Winfrey did just that. She delivered such a moving, fire and brimstone speech that for many – including yours truly – it was the highlight of the nationally televised awards ceremony. It's certainly what everyone has been talking and tweeting about on social media over the past day.

Throughout the three-hour ceremony broadcast on NBC and hosted by late-night talk show personality Seth Meyers, it was encouraging to see the actors, writers, directors and others who walked the red carpet and later took the stage sharing important conversations and articulating a set of values that's been missing from our government leaders for the past year. There was plenty of talk about diversity and decency – and, of course, the #MeToo movement. If the power of women was on full display Sunday night – and it certainly was – then Oprah showed that without a doubt she was the most powerful woman in the Beverly Hilton ballroom on Sunday night.

"America is upside down and inside out," opined New York Times columnist Frank Bruni, writing about the Golden Globes ceremony. "There's meaningless make-believe in the capital of politics. There's meaningful politics in the capital of make-believe."

Thus, the appeal of what Ms. Winfrey said Sunday night – and the eloquence and immediacy of her voice in how she delivered her message – raised our collective consciousness about sexual abuse and harassment. She showed a fresh determination for all of us to rally around – something that's been sorely lacking in our current president. Bruni called Ms. Winfrey's address, "a glorious speech about how a yesterday of discrimination becomes a tomorrow of hope."

Bruni wrote: "One of the best routes, she noted, are role models. She recalled what it meant to her, when she was younger, to see Sidney Poitier receive Hollywood's highest accolades. And she wandered aloud what it might mean for little girls Sunday night to see her getting the Cecil B. DeMille Award for outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment."

Veteran newsman Dan Rather, writing on his Facebook page Monday morning, said Ms. Winfrey's speech was "a bold and passionate call for hope, a rejection of the cynicism and darkness of the present."

Her words, Rather noted, "embodied the best traditions of American oratory. They rang with a moral clarity rooted in the march toward justice. They were not blind to the distance we have traveled as a nation and the distance yet to go. They were uplifting and inspiring, while recognizing that achieving progress will take work."

Among the many highlights of Ms. Winfrey's speech – and one which resonated with me – was when she spoke out about valuing freedom of the press.

"I want to thank the Hollywood Foreign Press Association because we all know the press is under siege these days. We also know it's the insatiable dedication to uncovering the absolute truth that keeps us from turning a blind eye to corruption and to injustice. To tyrants and victims, and secrets and lies, I want to say that I value the press more than ever before as we try to navigate these complicated times, which brings me to this: what I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have. And I'm especially proud and inspired by all the women who have felt strong enough and empowered enough to speak up and share their personal stories. Each of us in this room are celebrated because of the stories that we tell, and this year we became the story.

"But it's not just a story affecting the entertainment industry. It's one that transcends any culture, geography, race, religion, politics, or workplace. So I want tonight to express gratitude to all the women who have endured years of abuse and assault because they, like my mother, had children to feed and bills to pay and dreams to pursue. They're the women whose names we'll never know. They are domestic workers and farm workers. They are working in factories and they work in restaurants and they're in academia, engineering, medicine, and science. They're part of the world of tech and politics and business. They're our athletes in the Olympics and they're our soldiers in the military."

Finally, Ms. Winfrey brought the Golden Globes audience to its feet when she said: "I want all of the girls watching here now to know, that a new day is on the horizon. And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women, many of whom are right here in this room tonight, and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say 'me too' again."

On Sunday night, many of us saw Ms. Winfrey as Madame President. Not only a spiritual leader but a brilliant woman, who unlike our current president, came from nothing and built a billion-dollar empire. She is well respected and loved. Her nine-minute speech gave us hope – and, certainly, she encouraged all of us to be inspired and to stand up and be heard, and also to be inspired for social justice. 

The Washington Post quoted actress Meryl Streep afterward saying that Ms. Winfrey "launched a rocket" with her speech. "I want her to run for president," Ms. Streep told The Post. "I don't think she had any intention (of declaring). But now she doesn't have a choice."

Certainly, it will be interesting to see if the seed planted by Ms. Winfrey's hopeful and inspiring speech grows into some bigger than anything we might imagine. Don't count out an Oprah for President possibility in 2020. 

Photo: Courtesy of Google Images. Video: Courtesy of 

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Farewell 2017: Everyday we wrote the book

We are barely removed from the end of 2017,

which is a good thing because it was a very tough year in America.

We lost a lot of dear and talented people: 

Dick Enberg, Tom Petty, Mary Tyler Moore, come to mind.

And, there were lesser known but just as important ones we 

lost such as Maryam Mirzakhani, who was a Stanford 

mathematician. She worked like an artist, always drawing.

For nearly the entire year, we dealt with a President named Trump.

And, we know how well this has turned out for our country.

However, with the arrival of 2018, the first blank page of a 365-page,

year-long book that each of us will author began to be filled.

All of us start the New Year with a clean slate.

Hopefully, each of us will take the time to write a thoughtful book, 

be it a memoir or a best-selling novel,

day by day, page by page.

 With 2018 coming into clearer view, we welcome its challenges.

Remember, the words of Ecclesiastes, who said:

"The race is not to the swift,

nor the battle to the strong."

Life is to be enjoyed day by day,

 one day at a time.

Take time for family,

read a good book, 

listen to good music,

master a hobby like photography,

talk to good friends – and listen to them, too.

Support the arts, support newspapers.

Vote your conscience, but do vote!

Here's wishing you and your loved ones a Happy New Year.

May each of you enjoy cheers, love and peace on earth

in the New Year ahead.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

At the year's end, one last 2017 travel adventure

St. Patrick's Cathedral along Fifth Avenue.
It was Alan Alda, one of my country's most beloved and respected actors, whom many of us remember as Hawkeye Pierce in the long-running American TV series "M*A*S*H," who once gave a bit of wise advice that's resonated with me. As we awake to the final week of 2017, no matter where we may be or reside in the world, it's worth a moment of our time to think about what he said.

"You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you'll discover will be wonderful. What you'll discover is yourself," said Alda.

Now that my wife and I live on the East coast, we enjoy escaping to New York City. It's only 3 1/2 hours by train – and Amtrak has several Northeast Regional trains that travel between Washington D.C.'s Union Station and New York City's Penn Station daily.

Since moving to the Beltway, we've traveled to New York City by train twice, most recently last weekend. Each time, there are new discoveries that await us and it provides us with a chance to rediscover old things from a different perspective.

The Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular.
Whereas, our previous trip over Labor Day weekend was very much an Upper West Side experience, last weekend we found ourselves in the thick of the Christmas holiday revelry as we lodged a block off Times Square at the Hotel Muse on West 46th Street, between Sixth and Seventh Avenues. We were a short walk from Rockefeller Center and Radio City Music Hall, where we caught a glimpse – along with thousands of other tourists – of the tall and majestic Rockefeller Center Christmas tree and ice skating rink. Also, we saw the nearby festive holiday windows of Saks Fifth Avenue, the Neo-Gothic magnificence St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Cathedral, and took in a late Friday evening performance of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall. The headlining Rockettes are truly a one-of-a-kind New York experience and Radio City Music Hall is an art deco masterpiece that has been truly well-preserved and taken care of over the years.

Grand Central Terminal in New York City.
On Saturday, we rode he subway to Herald Square – to the land of "Believe" – and shopped at Macy's flagship New York City store.

Then, we ventured to Grand Central Terminal to shop at a lovely boutique holiday fair and to also enjoy warm soup on what turned out to be a wet and cold wintry day.

Later, our evening included dining and listening to seasonal holiday music at Jazz at Lincoln Center – and it was most welcome and enjoyable.

We'll be back in 2018 to see Hamilton.
New York City is a place that never sleeps and I could never see myself getting bored. There's always plenty to see and do and admire and be curious about. I know we'll be back next year as we have tickets to see Hamilton.

I look forward to 2018 and the New Year that awaits. Hopefully, it will be a year full of new discoveries and travel adventures. I hope yours will be filled with new discoveries, too.

Safe travels and Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

In 'Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool,' a femme fatale's passion and lust for her young lover are tested to the limits

Annette Benning (L) and Jamie Bell
star in Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool.
On Sunday morning, I attended a sneak preview of Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool, a 2017 British-American romantic drama from director Paul McGuigan that stars four-time Academy Award nominee Annette Bening and Jamie Bell, co-stars Julie Walters, and includes a lovely cameo appearance by Vanessa Redgrave.

Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool, which enjoyed its world premiere at the Telluride Film Festival in September, arrives in theaters later this month at a very busy time of the year. Hopefully, it won't get lost in the shuffle of year-end blockbusters and Oscar contenders because it's worth our time and attention.

Based on a memoir of the same name by Peter Turner, the film follows a playful but passionate relationship between Turner (played by Jamie Bell of Billy Elliott fame) and the vibrant but eccentric Academy Award-winning actress Gloria Grahame (portrayed by 59-year-old Annette Bening, who I learned had been waiting 20 years to be age-appropriate to play the legendary Hollywood femme fatale). The film is set in late 1970s Liverpool, England. The glamorous Grahame had been a big name in 1940s film noir, but was not so famous in color. As we see during the 106-minute Sony Pictures Classics film, what starts as a vibrant affair between the actress Grahame and her young lover Turner quickly grows into a deeper, complicated – and at times salacious – relationship that is tested to the limits by events beyond their control.

"When Gloria was a young actress, there were many more 'good girls' and 'bad girls' and 'good mothers' and 'bad mothers,' and those stereotypes that were rampant in all storytelling about women," Bening said in a recent interview with Women's Wear Daily. "And I think now there's a lot of change going on and the reality of women's lives is getting voiced. And the reality of the complexity of things: somethings you've got it together, and sometimes you don't."

In the same interview, producer Barbara Broccoli added: "What's important to (Bening) in this role is that there is no veneer. She is completely real: she wanted to play a real woman, a complex woman, a woman of her age in this time of life, where she is reflecting on her life and her career and her relationships, and she's with a younger man and has this disease – it's very, very complex. And I think Annette's performance is so extraordinary because she has no vanity – she's just wanting to play it with as much truthfulness as possible."

Meanwhile, the English musician/songwriter Elvis Costello, a big fan of Gloria Grahame, contributed an original song, "You Shouldn't Look At Me That Way," composed specifically for the film. "'You Shouldn't Look At Me That Way' is a song dealing with two people who have a lot of secrets," says Costello. "They were in a relationship and perhaps had difficulty seeing each other as they really were. All lovers have secrets. One lover has some vanity but also a lot of vulnerability. The title really came from that. It could refer to a seductive gaze but also a plea not to be judged."

Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool will be released in the U.S. on December 29. It is rated R for brief nudity.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Drawn to Purpose: Bringing to light the many contributions of American women illustrators and cartoonists

Drawn to Purpose: American Women Illustrators and Cartoonists is the newest Library of Congress exhibition (it opened November 18), and it brings to light many remarkable but little-known contributions by North American women which have been made in the popular art forms of illustration and cartooning.

The exhibition of nearly 70 works by 43 artists on display in the Thomas Jefferson Building's Graphic Arts Galleries at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. (through October 20, 2018) includes selected original works from the late 1800s to the present, and it shows the "gradual broadening in both the private and public spheres of women's roles and interests addressing such themes as evolving ideals of feminine beauty, new opportunities emerging for women in society, changes in gender relations, and issues of human welfare."

Drawn to Purpose features works from the Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress, and selections in the exhibition are grouped by type, including: Golden Age illustration, early comics, new voices in comics, editorial illustration, magazine covers and cartoons, and political cartoons.

During a recent visit to Drawn to Purpose, I learned that in the fields of illustration and cartooning – fields it should be noted that have been traditionally dominated by men – many women have earned their livelihoods creating wonderful and expressive art that has found wide dissemination in not only newspapers but also in books and periodicals, too.

Some of the artists and their works will be familiar to visitors who come see the exhibition, such as Grace Drayton, whose wide-eyed, red-cheeked "Campbell Kids" debuted in 1909. Also, there's the longtime comic strip favorite "For Better or For Worse," created by Lynn Johnston; Persian Gulf War editorial illustrations drawn by Sue Coe and Frances Jetter; and "Mixed Marriage" by New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast. A personal favorite of mine is Giséle by Elizabeth Shippen Green.

Although there was incremental progress made by women in illustration and cartooning from the 19th century into the early decades of the 20th century, it wasn't until the later 20th and early 21st century – as educational and professional opportunities grew – that we've finally witnessed women receive major acclaim from their peers.

Here's my takeaway: Drawn to Purpose demonstrates to us that although women were once constrained by gender bias, today, they have gained an immense number of new opportunities to self-express and discover. We are so fortunate.